Chapter 3 – Being Overwhelmed is a Threat to Your Business

Ok, I know what you are thinking.  “Great, as if I didn’t have enough problems, now my having problems is a problem?”  Yes, it is true.  As the business owner you have the unique ability to set the tone for the entire place.  A tone which will carry through in everything your business does.  You know what they say about, *ahem*, certain things flowing downhill?  Well, it flows out your phone lines too.  And out your website, and out of the person-to-person interactions your company has with its customers.  You are the headwaters for the entire operation, and like it or not, the business will behave much the same way you do.

Alright, so what does this have to do with being overwhelmed?  Plenty.  You see just like you are stuck with you every day, so is your business.  And, how likely do you think it is that someone who is beaten down will work to make his/her business more successful?  Unless that person is a masochist, not terribly likely.  Subconsciously, we will never work to increase something in our life that brings us pain.  Instead, we will be secretly, silently hoping for its demise.  It would be insane for us to wish for more punishment, and if we keep this attitude for long enough, we will destroy the source of our pain.  Our business will go down.  Unfortunately, when it does, it will probably take us with it.

So, since you have the power to set the tone for the business, why not seize the opportunity to create the business you want?  That is, do you notice that your employees are grumpy?  Well, are you grumpy?  Most employees look for examples of how to behave from those around them (especially those above them), and if you secretly hate your business, why should your employees feel any different?  If you have a morale problem, look at yourself first.  Look at how your attitudes, perceptions, and outward appearance are affecting things.  If you are overwhelmed and frustrated, odds are that you spread this frustration around to most other people there (including your customers).

No good can ever come from action taken out of spite, so if things aren’t going the way you want them to, perhaps you need to accept full responsibility and forgive your business.  After all, it was only taking orders from you.    Like it or not, you are (most likely) the cause of the affects you are seeing.

All of this responsibility has an upside, though.  That is, even though it is true that you can affect the business more than anyone else, it is also true that you can affect the business more than anyone else.  Need something fixed?  Well, you just happen to be in the best possible position to fix it.  This is part of the freedom a lot of people overlook when they are running their business.  You do not need anyone’s permission.  You do not need to convince your boss that your ideas are good.  If you think your ideas are good, that is all the justification you need.  Yes, you are uniquely responsible for what happens in your business.  But, you are also uniquely suited, and empowered, to do something about it.  You do not need to prove your ideas to a committee.  You are a rogue dictator, and at the end of the day, you need to do what you think is right.

So, now that we have established that, yes, everything is, in fact, your fault, now let’s move into what to do about it.  The first step could be to simply de-weight yourself.  If you are truly overwhelmed, you are not making good decisions.  Odds are you are looking to put out the fires using only the most obvious short-term fixes, which could be creating long-term problems.

You need a break.  In order to find a solution, the first step may very well be to just create some space for a solution to come to you.  If you are working 10+ hour days, at a frantic pace just to keep up, you will not have this space.  As Albert Einstein said, “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.”  Or, to paraphrase (yes, I do have the gall to paraphrase Einstein), you cannot solve a problem while you are completely immersed in it.    Of course it can seem critical to be involved with everything you are doing, but I assure you it is more critical to get some relief.  If you are overwhelmed, what you are doing is not sustainable.  You have a big problem if you are rapidly depleting your own personal resources without ever filling yourself back up again.  You are depleting your most precious asset, yourself.  And, if you don’t stop, you could very well start depleting resources you cannot get back.

The first thing to question is whether those 10+ hour days are really necessary.  Since there is no longer any boss around to have to explain why your job takes you so long to do, or other peers to tell you to go home, there is really nothing to stop you from working every possible free minute you have (and perhaps countless free minutes you don’t have).

Many entrepreneurs end up being the hardest bosses they have ever had.   And to compound this, most would never ask an employee to work as hard as they do.  I am not talking about sacrifice, I am talking about putting in insane amounts of hours to “get the job done”.  Or, another way to look at it would be, if you were working a job that asked as much of you as you do, would you quit?  Sure, you can tell yourself that it will all be worth it in the end.  Why, you will be loaded when you IPO, or when Google comes along to buy you.  But, what if that never happens?  Statistically, most businesses never sell or “cash out”.  What will you be left with then?  Or, you can say that once you build the business to a certain point, you can coast by on part-time.  However, working insane amounts does not beget less work, it begets more.  You get to part-time by deciding to get to part-time, not by waiting for some magical set of circumstances to make it so.  You get to where you want to be by deciding to go there, not by doing the opposite for a long enough amount of time.  By suffering intentionally you are just leading yourself down the road to more suffering.

By creating some space in your schedule, even if it is just a few hours a week, you can challenge what you are getting out of this arrangement.  Are you on the path where you want to go, or have you gotten off track?  Are you receiving your expected results, or does your formula need some tweaking?  Are you harming yourself, or those around you, with little or no gain (and no real hope for future gain)?  A lot of Type-A business owners will insist that the “No Pain, No Gain” philosophy is the best way to go.  For me, though, I have always had a lot more success with the “No Pain, No Pain” philosophy.  Let me tell you from experience that there is truly no honor in suffering.  Uncomfortable circumstances are a lot easier to solve if you never create them in the first place, so honestly ask yourself if you are working the smartest way possible.  Is the evidence you are seeing backing up your assumptions?  If not, it is time to change your assumptions.

If running your business is really hard, and takes a ton of time only you can give to it, chances are that you are working against your market, and not with it.  Not that running a business it supposed to be easy, but there is an element of market-help that should be present.  Just like a sail boat trying to sail against the wind, perhaps you are making things much harder than they need to be.  Perhaps the market need is a little different than what you initially thought it was.  Perhaps you are spending far too much time on things that are not profitable.  Perhaps there are things that you are not doing that you should.  Perhaps you are dropping the ball at some point in the relationship with your customers.  Only you can answer these questions, and things can only change if you are honest about the answers.  Businesses thrive on synergy, and if even one part of the equation is off, there can be cumulative effects all over.

I am not the first person to advocate this, but if at all possible, try and take at least one week per year to think about your business.  If possible, do this someplace where you will be (intentionally) out of touch.  Do not let day-to-day work sneak in.  This time is precious so treat it that way.  Take the time to analyze how things are really going.  Take a hard look at where you expected to be by this point, and where you are.  Be honest about what is working, and what isn’t.  Identify where the business is solid, and where it is out of balance.

I think you will find this time to be some of the most valuable time spent all year.  Your business needs guidance and direction, so take the time to be able to direct it as effectively as possible.  Also, take the time to learn to love your business again.  Reconnect with what you were so excited about when you started it and imbue this spirit into what you do.  Remember, you are living the dream, a dream you are creating, so spend this time to craft the dream you want and watch your business follow.